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Travel Tales Episode 20: A beautiful journey and Italian drama

Episode 20: A beautiful journey and Italian drama

A stunning journey on one of Europe's greatest Alpine rail routes is followed by an afternoon of spontaneous travel when best-laid plans had to be jettisoned.


When I arrived in Munchen Hbf the previous evening I’d astonished the charming booking clerk at the Reisezentrum travel desk, with my long list of trains that I needed or wanted to make reservations for.
I exploited to the max the ability of a Reisezentrum travel desk to sell rail pass users reservations, with no booking fees, for close to all rail journeys on continental Europe, regardless of whether the train travels through Germany.

The first of these trains that I'd reserved was this morning’s EuroCity train on to Verona and when I boarded I discovered that my assigned seat was in a compartment, meaning that a door separated the seating area from a corridor which ran along one side of the train carriage.
The corridor in a first class compartment coach on an EC train from Germany to Italy

These compartment style seats, which are behind a door, are now fairly rare on the European rail network, few high speed trains have them and when they are available they can be designated for use by family groups.
The only long-distance trains on which entire coaches comprise nothing but compartments are some of the InterCity and EuroCity (EC) services, which still use often now refurbished coaches, that date back to the 1980s and 1990s.
On the trains on which compartments can be found, such as these EC services between Munich and Italy, most of the seating in both 1st and 2nd class tends to be in the more typical open-plan style saloon carriages.
So if your preference would be a compartment seat, it can be worth using any seating plans that can be accessed when booking online.

The negative of these compartments is that on a busy train, the opportunities to enjoy the view from a window are reduced by 50%, as one set of seats is beside the corridor, but if you can luck out with a window seat, the views can be sensational.
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The atypically large windows are guaranteed to be between the seats and near the top of mine and many others peeves about train travel list, is that the newer a train, the more likely it is that the seats won’t line up with the windows.
Hence I’ve had some of my most memorable train travel experiences immersing myself in the views from a compartment seat.
But it can be a tricky to win the prize of a seat by the window when mandatory seat reservations are required, as is the case on these Germany <> Italy EC services.
I’d lost out by having a window on the wrong side of the train on my previous journey on this route and now history had repeated itself, because this time around my seat was by the corridor.

Wallowing in one of Europe's greatest rail journeys

Aside from the possibility of taking in a great view, the other tick in the box for travelling in these compartment seats, is the opportunity to chat with your fellow travellers.
The privacy enabled by having the seats behind a door ensures that if a language can be mutually shared, then conversation will inevitably flow and many of my most memorable European train travel experiences have resulted from this scenario.

This time around my travel companions were some Australian parents, who had used a wedding in northern Germany as an excuse to head to southern Italy by train, a couple from New Zealand who were combining a river-boat cruise with a Eurail adventure and a senior American gentlemen heading off on a hiking tour of the Dolomites.
What was particularly fabulous about this particular scenario is that we were all on that train because of an awareness that we would be taking one of the world’s most beautiful railway journeys.

Hence we took turns in capturing the stunning vista from the window, particularly on the most spectacular part of the route between Innsbruck and Brennero, where all of the views are over to the right when heading south.
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However, on these older type of EuroCity and InterCity trains, on which the coaches are pulled along by a locomotive, the rear door of the trains usually have panes of glass from which the views back down the railway line can be seen.
So when the trains are passing through valleys or by the coast, these rear view vistas can be superior to what can be seen from the more conventional train windows.

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The Australian couple should have been on the previous train, but they’d be tripped up by the type of scenario that ShowMeTheJourney is intended to guide people away from.
Their itinerary didn’t justify the purchase of Eurail passes so they had visited a local travel agent to book their necessary train tickets.
The agent had looked up their Munich to Venice trip and evidently used some sort of fastest journey time filter and booked the tickets from Munchen Ost station.
These EC trains to Italy have to loop around central Munich, so they depart from Munchen Ost station around 12 mins into the journey, hence the travel time from Ost station being quicker.

But the couple had understandably assumed that Munchen Ost would be the main station in Munich, primarily because the same travel agent had booked them into a hotel steps away from the Hauptbahhof/Hbf.
Hence they’d made their way into Munich Hbf 10 minutes before the departure time shown on their ticket and couldn’t work out why and how the train had evidently already departed.
Tickets had been swapped at no extra charge at the Reizesentrum travel desk, but I then added to their consternation when I asked why they hadn’t been initially booked on the next EC departure, the daily direct train from Munich to Venice.
Their ticket agent evidently hadn’t been aware that a direct journey by train between the two cities was an option and the Eurailing couple also didn’t know it was a possibility either, as they were also heading to Venice.

Improvising in Italy

Yours truly also had Venezia on this day’s itinerary, but I also wanted to cram in the opportunity to photograph the main stations in Verona, Vicenza and Padova, before winding up in Bologna, the final destination of the day.
This itinerary wasn’t quite as ludicrous as it seems, because the idea was to spend the late afternoon and evening hopping around northern Italy on the Regionale trains, exploiting the fact that rail pass users don’t have to reserve on these trains – but when I got to Italy, all of the Regionale trains were off the menu.
I didn’t have time to work out why, it may have been a strike or due to some kind of mechanical fault, because on arrival at Verona Porta Nuova station I had to quickly come up with a plan B.

So all those hours spent looking at timetables, maps and apps to come up with my meticulously worked out intentions to scoop up as many experiences and nuggets of info as possible, to share and pass on, were having to be jettisoned for the second consecutive day.
Though on my most recent 74 days of continental rail travel, this was one of only three occasions when the train I intended to take had been cancelled.

No Regionale trains at all were on the departure screens and the only train evidently leaving Verona within the next hour was a Frecce train to Venice, which was departing Verona only 10 minutes after my arrival.
So against the clock I had to obtain the seat reservation that all Eurail and InterRail users need to have before boarding any Frecce train service, including those between Verona and destinations to the east, which don’t go anywhere near a high speed line (yet).
The ticket desks were inevitably being bombarded, but this was an occasion when the ability to purchase rail pass reservations from Trenitalia ticket machines, saved the day.
I found a mercifully neglected machine in a corridor and with two minutes to spare I was back on the platform awaiting the train’s arrival.

At the risk of becoming the definitive bore on the topic of rail pass reservations, there are journeys which justify paying upfront for mandatory or optional reservation fees and those which don’t, in this second category is pretty much any journey by Frecce trains between Italian cities to the north of Bologna.
The Regionale Veloce train (the highly useful faster variant of the Regionale services) that I had intended to take, would have taken less than 10 minutes more to travel to Padova than this Frecce train.

What inevitably lifted my mood was the complimentary prosecco which was placed before me, a welcome benefit of my 1st class pass allowing me to travel in Business Class on Frecce trains, but I could have spent the €10 that the reservation had cost me on a bottle and downed it on the Regionale train, should I have so desired.
The temporary disappearance of the Regionale trains mean that Vicenza had to be scratched off the itinerary, the Frecce train called there, but stopping off there would have racked up another €10 reservation fee on the next departure..

I had spent a very happy holiday in beautiful Vicenza and headed off there on beautiful day trips by train to Lake Garda, Padova, Venice, Treviso and Verona, but in my archives I couldn’t find any images of Vicenza station, so I still lack any.

When I got Padova I’d hoped that the Regionale trains in that part of the world would be unaffected, but this unlikely scenario didn’t come to pass, so the diversion to Venice also had to be binned.
The €10 reservation fee on the Frecce train for a 20 min journey couldn’t be justified, despite being within touching distance of my fave non-rail travel experience, which is a sunset ride by vaporetti down the Grand Canal.

Looking back the logical thing to have done would have been to enquire at the info desks at Padova station what the arrangements were for those that had intended to travel on the Regionale trains and check whether they were having to pay extra to travel by Frecce trains.
But my circumstances were going to be mitigated by the opportunity to spend more time in beautiful Bologna, so I booked yet another reservation from a ticket machine and boarded the next Frecce train to be heading south.

The 1st class seating saloon on an ETR 600 train being used on a Frecciargento service


Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.


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